Dodgers pursue aggressive, contact-centric approach in Game 1 of NLCS

ATLANTA ― The same hitting strategy that lifted the Dodgers to a dramatic victory in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Thursday carried over to the National League Championship Series.

How good were the Dodgers when down in the count Saturday? Facing the Atlanta Braves’ left-handed ace, Max Fried, they had as many hits with two strikes (five) as they had strikeouts (five).

It’s a deliberate change in approach for a Dodger team that usually relies on patience and power more than contact and aggression. They derived 51.3 percent of their runs from home runs, second among the 30 MLB teams, en route to a championship in 2020. When the 60-game regular season ended, the Dodgers were on pace for a single-season team record in home runs.

In 2021, only the San Francisco Giants (241) and Atlanta Braves (239) hit more homers than the Dodgers (237).

“Trying to fight, win pitches, and give ourselves a chance,” is how Manager Dave Roberts described the Dodgers’ new approach. “If you give yourself a chance, it’s better than punching.”

The poster boy might have been second baseman Trea Turner.

Turner batted .136 in the five-game NLDS with more strikeouts (five) than hits (three) – a stunning reversal for a hitter who led the major leagues in batting average at .328. On Saturday, Turner went 2 for 4 with a pair of singles. Both came in two-strike counts.

Neither hit led to a run on a night when the Dodgers went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base. But it offered hope to a hitter who the Dodgers were counting on to contribute to their offense in the postseason.

“I feel like I’ve not been doing enough,” Turner said. “I’m not aggressive enough. I’m going to swing and miss sometimes, (but) I need to take those chances. I need to be aggressive. … The last five, six games I feel like I haven’t been aggressive enough.”

Turner said shortening his swing has helped him in the past. It didn’t help him in the eighth inning, when Braves left-hander Tyler Matzek struck him out on a sweeping two-strike slider. That swing and miss ended the inning and stranded Chris Taylor, who led off with a double, to preserve a 2-2 tie.

Turner said he could take solace in his approach.

“As long as my process is good, my work’s good, my at-bats are what I want them to be, I can live with the outcome,” Turner said. “You have to have a short memory in this game.”

The Dodgers’ biggest inning of the season was keyed by a pair of two-strike hits. In the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS, Cody Bellinger followed Gavin Lux’s two-strike single with one of his own, driving in Justin Turner with the winning run in a 2-1 victory.

Perhaps Fried, the former Harvard-Westlake star, was watching. He said the Dodgers’ short, aggressive swings did not surprise him at all.

“It’s a really good, prepared team,” Fried said. “They know exactly what I’m going to be bringing to the table and they had a really good game plan. They were looking for pitches in certain areas. It’s what good teams do.”

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